Why Amit Shah’s Visit To Manipur Next Week Is Crucial To Restoring Peace In The State
Spending such a long time in a state shows that the Union Home Minister is determined to return Manipur to the state of peace that it enjoyed till very recently.
The task is a tough one, and hope lies in the fact that Shah is not one to shy away from tough tasks.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah will undertake a four-day visit to strife-torn Manipur early next week.
Shah, according to top state officials, will reach Imphal on Monday (29 May) and will be there till 1 June.
The Union Home Minister is scheduled to meet, apart from Chief Minister N Biren Singh and all other ministers, politicians of different parties, civil society members, representatives of Meitei and Kuki communities, Church leaders and senior bureaucrats and police officers, as well as top officers of the army, Assam Rifles and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF).
Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Nityanand Rai landed in Imphal on Thursday (25 May) to lay the ground for Shah’s visit.
Shah held in-depth discussions on the situation in Manipur with a 13-member delegation of Manipuri MLAs, including three ministers, from the BJP, National People’s Party (NPP) and the Naga People’s Front (NPF) in Guwahati on Thursday evening.
Shah was in Guwahati to attend the second anniversary of the Himanta Biswa Sarma-led BJP government in Assam on Thursday. The 13 MLAs had travelled from Imphal to meet the Union Home Minister.
“The discussions were fruitful. We apprised him in detail about the prevailing ground situation in Manipur. He (Shah) asked us to start reaching out to all communities immediately to bring back normalcy,” state minister Leishangthem Susindo Meitei told Swarajya.
Shah’s visit to Manipur, said his junior minister Nityanand Rai, signifies the importance being accorded to Manipur by the Union government.
The very fact that this will be the first time that Shah, the number two in the federal government, will spend three nights and four days in one state “speaks volumes about the top priority being given by the Union government to ensure Manipur returns to complete normalcy very soon,” said Rai.
Shah faces some tough challenges in his mission to restore peace and ethnic harmony in Manipur. Not only has the mistrust and divide between Meiteis and Kukis deepened like never before, Kuki militants and organisations, as well as vested interests and political parties like the Congress want to keep the pot boiling for their selfish interests.
The past few days have shown that even the heavy presence of the army, Assam Rifles and CRPF troopers has not deterred flare-ups in some pockets of the state, including areas that had remained untouched by the ethnic violence that has raged in the state since 3 May.
Here are some of the challenges before Amit Shah:
Restoring Trust And Amity Between Meiteis And Kukis
The primary task before Shah, and a herculean one at that, is to get representatives of the Meitei and Kuki communities — be they politicians, religious leaders, intellectuals and prominent members of civil society — to sit across the table and start a dialogue.
Right now, so deep is the divide between the two communities that even BJP MLAs belonging to the Kuki community are refusing to meet Chief Minister Singh, a Meitei.
In fact, Kuki legislators and leaders, including those belonging to the BJP, have said that while they will welcome Shah and sit for discussions with him, they do not want to see Singh’s face.
Even many civil society members belonging to the two communities have vowed against engaging with each other.
Given these circumstances, the Union Home Minister will have to put in a lot of effort in getting Meitei and Kuki politicians, as well as prominent members of the two communities, to shed their mutual distrust and sink their acrimony to sit for a dialogue.
Shah realises the urgent need to initiate dialogue; he said in Guwahati on Thursday: “Charcha ke dwara hi shanti aa sakti hain” (peace can only be restored through dialogue).
The Union Minister will have to leverage his considerable skills to kickstart the dialogue process between the two warring sides.
Also, this dialogue will need to be held simultaneously at various levels involving politicians, religious leaders, members of civil society, NGOs and others belonging to both the communities.
Given the deep distrust between the two communities at present, it will take considerable time to restore harmony. Shah will have to keep close tabs on the broad and multi-layered dialogue process. There is, as he rightly said, no alternative to talks.
Restoring People’s Faith In The State Machinery
Both Kukis and Meiteis seem to have lost all faith in the state machinery, especially the Manipur police.
The divide between the Meiteis and Kukis has affected and extended to the civil administration, including the police.
The Kukis accuse the civil administration, especially the police, of playing a partisan role. They allege that the police looked the other way when Meitei mobs destroyed their homes and churches.
The Meiteis are also angry with the state government for failing to act strongly against Kuki militants and miscreants who attacked and killed or injured Meiteis, vandalised and destroyed their houses and shops and forced them to flee to safer places.
Shah will have to ask the Chief Minister to overhaul the state administration, especially the state police which has gained notoriety for being corrupt, unprofessional, partisan, high-handed and wayward.
Shah will have to tell the Chief Minister in unequivocal terms that restoring people’s faith in the state administration is a task that he (Biren Singh) will have to undertake immediately in all seriousness and in a transparent manner.
If rule of the law has to be established in Manipur, it is imperative to restore people’s faith in the state administrative machinery. Without that, normalcy can never be restored.
Bringing All Culprits To Book
The Union Home Minister realises the need for this as well. That is why he mentioned Manipur prominently while speaking at the foundation-stone laying ceremony for a campus of the National Forensic Sciences University in Guwahati Thursday.
“I will appeal to my brothers in Manipur to maintain peace and have faith in the administration. I assure you that justice will be done to all and no one who has indulged in violence will be spared,” Shah had said.
Identifying and arresting troublemakers from both the communities, including Kuki militants, will be a tough task.
Mobs from both the communities were involved in heinous attacks on the other community and widespread acts of arson, including torching each others’ properties.
Identifying people in those big mobs, tracking them down and arresting them will be a tough task, but one that is crucial in restoring normalcy.
Also, many troublemakers surely enjoy political patronage and acting against them can upset many powerful quarters.
Most importantly, the state administration must be seen to be acting impartially and even-handedly in this. Given the ill repute of the Manipur civil administration that is also divided on ethnic lines, this seems to be a stiff call.
Shah has to apply a lot of pressure on the Manipur state administration to provide justice to all as he promised and to punish all those who indulged in violence.
Warn Away The Instigators
A number of people and organisations in Manipur and even outside the state are fishing in troubled waters and deepening the ethnic divide for their narrow vested interests.
These included a section of the church, Kuki militants, politicians from both the communities (especially those belonging to the Congress), some NGOs and civil society members in Manipur and neighbouring Mizoram.
Shah has to wield his authority in full measure and warn them off. He has to send a stern warning to all these troublemakers who want to keep the pot boiling in Manipur that they will face strong action if they keep on fishing in troubled waters.
Shah, as the Union Home Minister, will have to take up the issue of Mizo NGOs and politicians issuing provocative statements against Meiteis with the Mizoram Chief Minister.
Such statements are creating more bad blood between the two communities and cannot go unchecked. Shah has to intervene very strongly here.
Not that this is going to be easy. The Congress and others seem hell-bent on taking advantage of the volatile situation in Manipur. To discourage them, initiating action against some of the prominent troublemakers will make the rest fall in line.
Get The BJP Unit In Manipur To Stay United
As often happens in such troubled circumstances, a few senior ministers of Manipur are fuelling dissent against the Chief Minister. They harbour ambitions of becoming the Chief Minister and want Singh to be sacked.
Amit Shah has to warn these dissenters and drive home the point that this is the time to stay united and not engage in dissent against Singh.
Shah has to make all leaders of the party unit in the state as well as the ministers realise that dissent against Singh at this juncture will fuel more trouble and will throw the state machinery in disarray.
Instead of working against the Chief Minister and seeking his replacement, they should rally behind Singh and present a united face in these troubled times.
Shah also has to tell BJP organisational leaders in Manipur to launch mass contact programmes aimed at restoring peace.
BJP karyakartas at the grassroots level can play a major and important role in bringing about peace by working with both the communities and reducing the distrust and acrimony that now exists between Meiteis and Kukis.
Shah also has to convince party leaders, including MLAs, belonging to the Chin-Kuki-Zo-Hmar ethnic group to forego their present antipathy towards the Meitei community and facilitate the peace process for the larger interests of the state, the region and the country.
Ask Chief Minister Singh To Act Like A Statesman
One of the most important tasks before Shah is to ask Chief Minister Singh to act like a statesman.
Singh has, in recent times, acted in a not-so-sagacious manner. Some of his recent actions and utterances have been construed as parochial and petty by Kukis.
Singh’s rash action in withdrawing from the truce with Kuki militants, for instance, was ill-advised and has led to more trouble.
Singh’s imprudent statements calling many Kukis “foreigners” or “illegal immigrants from Myanmar” have, for instance, only fuelled anger among the Kukis who have developed deep antipathy towards him.
Shah has to impress upon Singh in private that as the Chief Minister of the state, he has to act astutely keeping the long-term interests of the state in mind and has to take all communities along.
Spending such a long time in a state — and this has never happened before — shows that the Union Home Minister is determined to return Manipur to the state of peace that it enjoyed till very recently.
The task is a tough one, and hope lies in the fact that Shah is not one to shy away from tough tasks.
As you are no doubt aware, Swarajya is a media product that is directly dependent on support from its readers in the form of subscriptions. We do not have the muscle and backing of a large media conglomerate nor are we playing for the large advertisement sweep-stake.
Our business model is you and your subscription. And in challenging times like these, we need your support now more than ever.
We deliver over 10 - 15 high quality articles with expert insights and views. From 7AM in the morning to 10PM late night we operate to ensure you, the reader, get to see what is just right.
Becoming a Patron or a subscriber for as little as Rs 1200/year is the best way you can support our efforts.